He tells us that we are to abstain from the passions of the flesh and he commands us to keep our conduct honorable. And in the rest of the book Peter will flesh out what abstaining and acting honorable will be like. But here, at the very outset, we are to notice that, once again, we are called to a life of extremity.
You may have heard that many Amish communities practice a thing called rumspringa. It’s that time, typically during their teenage years, where a young Amish person walks away from his Amish-ness for a while. Up to this point he’s lived a distinct life of separation. But during rumspringa, he has opportunity to explore the world.
So when an individual comes of age he will leave his family and enter the mainstream American culture. He may learn to drive. He certainly will take up the dress of your ordinary English youth. He most likely will engage in the typical practices common to American young people, such as playing video games, watching movies, listening to music. He may even go to the extreme of indulging in the excesses of life, such as sexual promiscuity, drinking, and partying.
It’s believed that this time of “freedom” is good for the young person. It is thought that after they “sow their wild oats” they will have it all out of their system and they will return to their old Amish life.
As these Amish kids live much of their life set apart from such modern delicacies, they are often quite eager for their rumspringa. They cannot wait to taste the delights of their new found “freedom.” They cannot wait to leave off their separated lives and indulge themselves the pleasures of the world.
You might think that the Amish community is way off—way out there, for this rumspringa practice. But deep down inside you know it is true of yourselves. Every one of us has the rumpsringa desire in our hearts. There is a part of us that wants to cast off the distinctly separate life that we are to live and indulge ourselves in a little rumspringa.
But when it comes to the Christian life, we find in our passage today that there is no such thing ever permitted for those of us who wish to be Christians.
As we look at this passage, I want us to consider then the extreme life that we are called to. I want you to think about what your duty before God really is, and then consider why it is important that we uphold that lifestyle.
I. What must we do?
Again, our passage calls us to do two things, to abstain from the passions of our flesh and to live honorably before the Gentiles. Let’s think about what that entails. First, what does it mean to abstain from the passions of our flesh?
When we talk about abstinence and “passions of the flesh” most likely you’ll immediately think of lust and sexual desire. Certainly that is included. And it is one that we can never talk enough about in our present day. But I want you to understand that it is not limited to that. This has to do with lust of any kind. It is much broader in its scope because it has in mind any kind of unholy obsession that we may have.
You know how your desires tend to fly off the hook, and it can be over something that is all fine and good. But you just get obsessed with it, and you want it ever so bad. And it almost becomes a fire within you that keeps flaring up, and you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s that new cell phone or that video game. Maybe it’s getting that little addition in your house that you say would make everything just so perfect, and you keep going to the internet to look at it (its under the guise of researching it, of course). Whatever it is, it is out of your reach at the moment and you salivate over it like a dog salivates over his dinner bowl.
Peter says that we are to never let the delights of this world so mesmerize us like that. If we are so spell bound in our covetousness, then you need to know that you have become sidetracked from your chief pleasure in life. Your greatest delight in life is always to be the Lord Jesus Christ. All of your other yearnings are to be held in check. If they exceed this chief priority, then we have greatly erred.
And this is something you need to remember as we approach the Christmas season. We are on the verge of the year’s grand advertising blitzkrieg. Most stores operate in the red until the last quarter of the year. And they pull out all the stops so that you’ll buy their wares. And they will come dangling every little item right before you. They want to encourage that spirit. They want you to glut yourself with their products. Their whole campaign will be designed tin such a way to best tap into that lust.
But you must understand that that urge—that feverish, pressing thirst for more that is so common to our sinful nature is to be extinguished. We are not to let it be entertained, not even for a moment.
These passions, these obsessions for the world’s pleasures, must be averted at all costs. But you say, “How? How in the world can I do that?” Well, it’s going to be the work of grace, of course. That’s why we must rely on Christ.
But I think our text gives us some help too. I think it contains a real practical hint at how we keep ourselves pure in this regard. The word that is translated “abstain” actually means “keep yourself away from” or “distance yourself.” We tend to think of abstinence as just avoiding something; like keeping it just out of our range of touch. We think of it as “hands off.” But the biblical idea of abstinence is getting clean away from it—distancing yourself.
I know that’s the last thing you want to do when it comes to something you really want. What you want to do is get as close as you can to it. But God says, get away. If it is in your mind and you are constantly turning it over, get away from it. Put your mind on something completely different. Perhaps the best thing to do is pray. When you are consumed with earthly things, get some distance by sending your thoughts to heaven. When you are consumed with yourself, pray for other people—perhaps saints who are in far off countries struggling for survival.
The chief thing to do is to get some distance.
The other thing that we must do is live honorably among the Gentiles. I’m not going to dwell long on this. As I said, we are going to flesh that out more in the upcoming weeks as we make our way through the rest of 1 Peter. And really, I believe that what is said here is just two side of one coin. I think that Peter is basically repeating himself. First he states it in a more negative fashion: abstain from the passions of the flesh [“get some distance from the things you covet]. Then he says it in a more positive fashion, “Live honorably among the Gentiles.” Both are getting at the same idea: You are to make every effort to live a spotless life. Blameless!
You might say that this is just a restatement of what he said earlier, “Be perfect, as the Lord your God is perfect.” That is the summation of this passage.
But if you would indulge me one moment…Let me just say this about what it means to “live honorably among the Gentiles.” I have heard that there are some who will not hire anyone who has an ichthus sticker on the back bumper of their car. They are business minded men and women and they will not hire anyone who claims to be a Christian. It’s not because they are flaming atheists. They don’t have any specific vendetta. It’s just that they’ve seen what a lot of Christians are like. They won’t get to work on time. They poke around while they are at work and don’t take their projects seriously.
Now what kind of testimony is that? That is certainly not living honorably among the Gentiles! And you see how the “passions of the flesh” are linked to living honorably. The passions of sloth make lives that are dishonorable.
That is not what we are called to. We are called to honorable lives—lives that other people will find respectable and praiseworthy. And that means that we need to put the passions of our flesh in check.
I have so many applications I want to make here, but I’m going to have to tuck them away for now. We’ll have to deal with them another time. Let it be enough now for us to say that God calls us to an extreme life. We must bridle our excessive desires. We need to get distance between us and them and live honorably among the Gentiles. That is what we must do. We must live the extreme life, without a single second of a rumspringa.
Peter tells us that we must live to the extreme. But you’ll notice in the passage that he doesn’t leave it at that. He gives us several reasons why we need to live that way.
II. Why must we do it?
If you need a little motivation to get you on board with this, consider what Peter says about your nationality.
A. The issue of your nationality
At the very beginning of our text for today Peter reminds you that you are a pilgrim and an exile. He reminds you that you do not belong to the kingdom of sin and Satan. You belong to God and are a citizen of heaven. As such, you must be sure to maintain the proper deportment. Your lifestyle must remain in keeping with your personal background.
Think about the Amish kid again. Imagine a little Amish boy in all his Amish clothing. He’s got his blue and black dress, and his little Amish hat on his head. Now imagine him walking into a bar full of bikers. You see the boy walk up to the bar and order up a beer. Then as he swigs it down, he lights up a cigarette, grabs a pool stick and starts flirting with the ladies sitting in a booth.
Now something in your brain has to be screaming. I hope you are having a hard time imagining that. It’s not right. An Amish kid isn’t supposed to do that. That is not his environment. That’s not the kind of lifestyle that you associate with Amish kids. So long as he is in that bar [for whatever reason, perhaps his buggy broke down] he is a stranger. And his lifestyle ought to be in keeping with his original ethnicity.
That’s exactly what Peter is talking about here. You are a spiritual alien. Your homeland is the realm of angels and of God. And since this is so, cannot kibitz with sin. It would be unnatural for you to do so. So long as you are in this world, you are to stand out like a sore thumb. Your interests are in the New Jerusalem, and so your lifestyle is to be of a heavenly sort.
You must live this life because of it is in keeping with your nationality. But it is not just your ethnicity. You also need to consider the hostility of sin.
B. The issue of sin’s hostility
Our passage here makes it very clear that sin is hostile. At the end of verse 11 it says that these passions and lusts, “Wage war against your soul.” It is saying that sin is like an army ready to advance against your spiritual life. It is the enemy to peace and happiness, and it wishes to lay siege upon your soul.
You have to understand that you cannot permit sin in your life because it will attack you. It has the power to weaken and debilitate you spiritually. And all of you know this is true by experience. You know the misery it causes you. You know how it impedes your ability to smile and enjoy life. Sure it gives the allurement of happiness, but once the fleeting moment of sin is gone you’re left with nothing but the aftertaste of bitterness, discontent, and angst.
And then that impedes the rest of your spiritual life. You know how such things keep you from prayer. The more you are taken up with the delights of the world, the less you are taken up with God. How many of you can testify to how it impinges upon your ability to listen to a sermon. You couldn’t tune in because your mind is being assaulted by worries and anger and “what if’s.”
My friends, sin is on a campaign. It would like nothing more than to breech the fortress of your breast and raise the banner of misery over your heart.
And that is why you must take heed to Peter’s call, because it is so hostile.
But Peter not only brings up the issue of your nationality and sin’s hostility. He also mentions the world’s scrutiny.
C. The issue of the world’s scrutiny
Years ago Francis Schaffer wrote a book entitled, “The church before a watching world.” That is the very notion contained in verse 12. The world is watching us because, as it says there, “they wish to speak against us.” That is to say they are watching us because they want to charge us with some sort of wrongdoing. But we must show them that there is nothing to their charges. Moreover, the bounty of our good deeds must lead them ultimately to glorify God.
In the early church we see a good example of this. There was a time when the Roman magistrates charged the Christians with sedition. They were thought to be traitors because the Christians oftentimes talked about being part of another kingdom. And the Romans called for their citizenry to report Christians. But a lot of that didn’t happen because the everyday people around the Roman Empire knew that Christians were not bad people. They knew that for the most part they were obedient citizens.
Today, we might not face such an extreme case. But we are certainly still under surveillance. To be a Christian is to live in a fishbowl. Everyone is watching. Our neighbors are peeking over the fence at us, watching us through their windows. Just think, as soon as a prominent minister falls into sin, what happens? It is headline news. It is on the front page of every media outlet. They are just looking for a way to criticize.
But we must show them that there is no credence to their charges. As they scrutinize the things we do, our purity and our love ought to lead them straight to the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Warren Weirsbe tells the story of some missionaries who were trying to minister to a certain tribe. They were diligent in their efforts to preach and teach. One day the chief of the tribe came to them and began talking to them. He eventually said, “We know that you teach about this Jesus and want us to be Christians. But we also know that you are working with the next village too. We will wait and see what becomes of them. If their lives become more righteous and their lifestyle improves, then we will become Christians too.”
That is the way it is more often than not. And may we take it to heart. May we be encouraged today to take heed to what Peter has said. May we see how important it is to live holy lives.
As I said earlier, over the next few weeks we are going to see what it means to live honorably among the Gentiles, but today may we see just how important it is to do so. And may we be encouraged to live to the extreme.
Our journey takes us here. Yet though it may not be a place we would normally stop, it is a place where the Lord requires us to come. It is a place where he gives us true refreshment.
That’s because it is a place where we a taught a great lesson: We come to find that our journey is one that is not traveled in our own strength.
We are brought to this construction zone because God wants us to see His sovereign activity in our lives. He wants to remind us that he is the Divine Architect. He is the unseen engineer of this grand project we call the church. And every minute detail of this project is being overseen by his mighty power.
And this morning I want you to delight yourself (perhaps refresh yourself) in that. I want you to consider the sovereign activity of God in your lives. Or, if I might summarize it for you at the outset, I want us to consider the work, way, and wisdom of the Divine Architect.
I. His work 
When you look at verse 5 you take comfort in the fact that God is working. He’s working in your life, and he’s doing the work of a mason. Verse 5 says that you are “living stones” that are “being built up.” This means that God is not sitting back in a corner watching you like some sort of fish in a fish bowl. When God first entered you life, he became active in your life. After the demolition of tearing down the rule of sin in your life he starts working in you to build you up and shape you into just the kind of person he wants.
Kids, have you ever worked with blocks? What did you do with those blocks? You picked them up and you stacked them here and there. Those blocks didn’t stack themselves, did they? No. You had to do it. You had to do the work. The blocks weren’t going to come together by their own power.
And that’s exactly what this verse is saying. You are living stones that are being built up. That’s Scripture’s way of saying that you are not in charge of your sanctification. Last week we talked about the goal of the Christian life. And I laid it on you. It was my job to lay upon you the full weight of God’s law. And I hope you felt it. I hope you walked out of here thinking, boy, that’s going to be tough.
And if that’s the way you felt, then good. You got the message. That’s why you need this one. It’s not being done in your own power, but it is the omnipotent hand of the Holy Spirit that is working. God is the one who is building you up. He is the one who is the contractor doing the work to make you into what he wants you to be.
And what a glorious work he is doing too! Verse 5 goes on to tell you exactly what God is doing. It says he’s making us into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. What does that mean? It means we are becoming a united, spirit filled people who worship and serve the Lord.
We are spirit filled because we are a spiritual house. The spiritual house in the old testament was the temple. That’s where God dwelt. And we the church have had the Spirit fill us so that we are the place God resides.
And not only are we being filled with the spirit, but we are being unified. Think about how all those stones in the temple came together to make one building. And it is interesting that in when the temple was under construction, they were not allowed to chisel the stones on the temple mount. Every one had to be formed while it was down in the quarry. Then they were brought up and fitted right into place. It’s an amazing though, if you think about it. But that’s what God is doing with us! Each of us is a brick, hewn from the quarry of sin and death. And we are being brought together by the skillful craftsmanship of God’s good hand.
I mean, think about it. How else could you get such a rag-tag band of people to come together? Each of us has a completely different background. Some of us have radically different interests and personalities. How else could just this group come together and find unity? I’ll tell you how: It’s by the operation of the Holy Spirit.
On top of that we are becoming more and more holy and dedicated to the service of God. That’s what it means to be a holy priesthood. The priests were men who were expected to be more virtuous than the rest of the nation of Israel. They had special commands, over and above the rest of the nation, by which they were to abide. What’s more is that they were not given any land to cultivate. Their lives were to be dedicated to the service of God and him alone.
That’s what we are to be doing. Our lives are to be exemplary. Our holiness is to exceed the rest of the world’s. And that’s what God is doing in our lives!
Above all, we are to engage in the worship of God! It says here that God is working on us so that we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. No, its not the bloody sacrifices. Its’ the spiritual sacrifices. It’s the laying aside of our sins and our paying tribute to Christ in worship and in life.
And do you know what the best part of this is? God is doing it all! He’s making it all happen! I don’t want you to forget that. It’s not up to us to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and make it all happen. God is the one who is making us into the priests. God is the one who is making us holy. God is the one making us to offer spiritual sacrifices. The work is his doing. All we have to do is be who God is making us to be.
My friends, let us rejoice that the divine architect is at work. And let us be glad that his work is also being done in his way.
II. His way 
Whenever a building project starts, it always has to follow the blue prints. The building has to be constructed according to the Architects drawings. There isn’t to be any deviation. Everything must be done his way.
And that is exactly what you see in this passage. If you skip back one verse, you see the way God accomplishes his work in your life. The way you are built up is by faith in the person and work of Christ.
Verse 4 starts off by saying, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious you yourselves as living stones are being built up.” Let’s strip away some of the modifiers to get to the nugget of the sentence. It says, “as you come to him…you are being built up.” In other words, the way you get built up by God is by coming to him.
Now when it talks about coming to him, I want you to understand that it is talking about your faith in him. For instance, Jesus says in Matthew, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden.” Are we supposed to literally go to him? No. It’s a metaphor. He wants you to come to him in faith. He’s talking about believing in him. You are to come to him in faith. You are to trust him, fear him and he rest in the fact that he will give us salvation.
The idea is the same here in Peter’s epistle. The only difference is that we have already come to him that initial time for salvation. Here the idea is that of continuing faith. We are to be constantly relying upon the person and work of Christ and resting in the promises of the gospel. That’s what the rest of the sentence is about: Christ is the living stone, that is, the source of life. The one who has life in and of himself. And He is the redeemer—the one who was rejected by men (and killed), yet was chosen by God and honored by being raised up on the third day as the victor over sin and death.
You have in this one sentence the whole gospel. A Peter stresses that as you come to Christ—as you rest in him as our Savior, and believe the gospel, God changes us and builds us up in the faith.
In sum, what you are to come away with is this: The Bible tells us that you are not only justified by faith in Christ, but you are sanctified by faith in Christ too.
And I tell you, this is one of the revolutionary things about Reformed theology. I know it was for me. And I know many people who have expressed the same idea. As a matter of fact I had opportunity to talk with a fellow about it just this last week.
Each week I have been going to the prison with Joe Magellet. We’re in the process of setting up some college level theology classes for them. This week we were going to interview the candidates for the class. As I sat down with one fellow he began talking about how when he first came to Christ he was caught up in the Word faith movement (the name-it-and-claim it people). After being in those circles for a while he began to become disenchanted because things weren’t coming about like they were supposed to. He would name and claim, but the claims were not coming. Like I said, after a while he became quite disenchanted with it. For all his effort, his life wasn’t changing.
That’s when he started studying more Reformed teachings. And he came to find that it wasn’t up to him and it wasn’t by his power that things would change. It was up to God. And the gospel call to him was simply to rest in what Christ has done and trust Christ’s mighty life-giving power.
It’s so freeing to know that all that is required of us is simple trust in the claims of the gospel. I have often said that Calvin was my second savior. I, of course, don’t mean that in a literal sense. Calvin is nothing. But the concept that is developed in the Calvinistic schema is so freeing. To know that it isn’t by works and that my sanctification is not depended upon my pitiful efforts is so freeing.
You can rest in knowing that it isn’t up to you to make myself more holy. It ought to be a great relief to know that our salvation is all by faith and all by grace.
All God requires us to do is believe the claims of the gospel. That is the way the divine architect has ordained it. As we cleave to the living stone, he builds us up.
But let us not stop there. God is not only doing his work in his way, but he is doing it according to his great wisdom as well
III. His wisdom [6-8]
Verses 6-8 go on to tell us this. In these verses we see the totality of God’s plan. God, in his infinite wisdom and before the world began, ordained exactly how it would all play out.
The first thing we see is that, in his wisdom, He ordained that Christ would come. That’s what verse 6 means when it says that “a stone in Zion would be laid.” Christ is the stone and by his incarnation, he would come to Zion and live among us.
But the wisdom of God also saw fit to have him rejected. The irony of God’s plan of redemption would be that he would display his sovereign power over the free acts of men. They treated Christ with the utmost cruelty. Of their own free will they took him and crucified him. Yet despite their evil intent, God ruled and overruled their actions. Certainly He was not the author of their evil. Nevertheless they were ordained by him and used it for His grand purpose.
This is one of those mysteries of the Bible. How is it that God can sovereignty govern all things and their actions, yet men be free? How is it that the evil acts of men can be ordained of God, yet he is not the author of them? I don’t want you to think that I can explain it. I certainly can’t. I can’t do anything beyond state the mere fact of it. All we can say is that God had most certainly decreed it and his wisdom prevailed.
The wisdom of God is expressed in one other way in this passage. And this might be the hardest concept for us to grapple with. In his wisdom the Lord ordained that some would be left in their sins and eventually go to hell. That’s what verse 8 means when it says, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”
Yes, you heard correctly. They were destined to disobey the word. From the beginning of time, God chose to bring some men into a state of salvation. But the flip side of that is that he skipped over a lot of people. And in so doing he chose not to save them. He chose to leave them in a state of sin and damnation.
In theology, this is what we call the doctrine of reprobation. It is the idea that there are some in the world who are destined to go to hell.
Some people think that this is a terrible thing. But I want you to remember what it tells us. It reminds us that God is in complete control. History is not the random occurrence of events. And as Peter speaks to these saints who were on the verge of being cruelly treated for their faith or presently being persecuted, it would have been a great comfort to know that nothing occurred without his say so.
We can do the same. We can take comfort in the fact that the divine architect is glorified both in belief and unbelief. He is soverieng in our obedience or our disobedience.
This doctrine of reprobation might not be too palatable for some people, but it is the truth of Scripture. And it is a doctrine which ought to give us comfort. For it reminds us that God’s wisdom can never be thwarted. And through all ages God prevails in the lives of men.
Dear pilgrims, you’ve come to this construction zone. And hopefully you are refreshed with what you have seen: That your God is soverign over all the affairs of your life. The divine architect is working. He is working in your life. He is working to build you up and make you to be what you ought to be. He is active in all the affairs of men. And all he asks of you is that you rest in the sweetness of his Son and the unfolding wisdom of his plan.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.